Be Afraid of Translation. Be Very Afraid.

Last night marked the enthusiastic launch of Translating Egypt’s Revolution: The Language of Tahrir, ed. Dr. Samia Mehrez. At the event, author Laura Gribbon — who co-wrote the chapter “Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt” — noted an eagerness, during the 18 days, to be translated. She said that when she was “walking around midan al-Tahrir as a foreigner” people would press their signs toward her and “people would ask me to take a picture of them.”

Gribbon also noted the multilingual nature of many signs during the 18 days, and a generalized desire to be “translated” for other audiences, in other (foreign) sites of power.

This has its uncomfortable side, sure. Perhaps it has echoes of some Arab authors seeking translation in order to be (eventually) appreciated in Arabic, as Mourid Barghouti once framed it. But this eagerness to be translated has its fun and wonderfully open-source side, too.

It’s hard to imagine average English-speakers in the US opening themselves to world translation in this way. And yes, many English-language authors seem indifferent to translation. A few, one hears, actively oppose the idea of having their works transformed into other languages.

Here in Egypt, apparently, such forces as oppose revolution are also not keen on translation. This is something they make quite clear in their funny but ultimately-not-that-funny TV spots of late:

Should you be afraid of translation or embrace it? Well, whoever paid for this ad certainly makes their opinion clear.